Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rubber duck debugging revisited

I have always enjoyed thinking out loud - especially when thinking about complex technical problems, but have never given much attention to this process until a colleague of mine pointed out a catchy term (which for some unknown reason I wasn't aware of) for this process - Rubber Duck Debugging. Other (common?) variations of this are the Cardboard Programmer and the Cone of Answers. Here are a few more patterns I thought of naming (haven't tried them all in real life, though):

Preschool debugging

Goal: To have a more interactive communication experience as compared to a cutout or a ducky.
Method: You need to have really good relations with a colleague's preschool kid for this. Or better yet, to have your own offspring ready for action. Take a 3-5 year old kid to your computer and start explaining the piece of software you're working on. Use domain-specific language as you please. Continue until you get tired of the why-questions or one of you gets cranky. Don't be surprised if it is you - the little devils can be quite persistent.

Grandmother debugging

Goal: To explain the software details in non-domain specific terminology.
Method: Similar to preschool debugging, but "use" a foreigner to the domain of your software solution. Bonus points for actually employing a grandmother. Try to explain the software in terms that the foreigner would understand. Use analogies, if needed - extra bonus points for applying sewing or knitting terminology in case of thread management issues.

Blind man debugging

Goal: To find lack of coherence in a user interface design.
Method: Take a "blind" subject - a person that has never seen the user interface you have designed, give the subject a piece of paper and a pen. Take a usage scenario to be executed on the interface and describe the user interface elements to the subject. Let the subject draw the UI elements in the execution order of the flow, eyes closed. Take the drawing and compare it to the described design - UI elements that are most inaccurately positioned compared to the original are probably the hardest to find for a regular user. (Haven't tried this one - just based on a hunch)

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